Thursday, 10 December 2015

Top 10 YA Books of 2015

2015 has been a rollercoaster year for me, but one thing has remained steady: I’ve enjoyed every single book I read. When I left university in 2013, I was woefully behind on my reading for pleasure, so I’ve spent this year trying to catch up via the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I originally challenged myself to read twenty books, then twenty-five, and now I’m only one book away from hitting thirty. Considering I’ve been working on four separate writing projects this year, I’m proud that I found time to read, whether it was on trains or planes or just a few hours in the evening of a weekend.

I have read a lot of fascinating, terrifying, and morally complicated YA books this year. Before 2015, I hadn’t actually read that much YA, as school and university mostly fixed my attention on classics and adult texts, but I’ve met so many authors and attended so many YA events in the last few years, and been so intrigued by so many books, that I had to plunge back in.

YA is amazing. It breaks boundaries, smashes taboos and pushes the limits of imagination. Trying to narrow my list down to ten has been bloody tough, but I think I finally it. So here it is: My Top 10 YA Books Read in 2015.


1. The Wrath and the Dawn (The Wrath and the Dawn #1) by Renée Ahdieh

Genre(s): Fantasy; romance

I was lovingly pestered into reading this book by Lauren DeStefano, whose opinion of books I trust implicitly, and I’m very glad I listened. (There was this whole saga where I tried to get a physical copy, but it wasn’t available in the UK, and after multiple failed attempts at ordering it, I finally had to settle on the eBook out of sheer impatience. I am envious of anyone who has a physical copy. Look at that cover.) Renée Ahdieh introduces us Shahrzad, or Shazi, who sets out to avenge her best friend by marrying the dreaded Caliph of Khorasan, Khalid Ibn al-Rashid – a man who takes a new bride every night before having her executed at dawn. She soon discovers that there’s more to Khalid than meets the eye. Laced with magic and stories from A Thousand and One Nights, with a witty lead and great side characters, it’s a beautiful, diverse, and vividly drawn love story.


2. Am I Normal Yet? (The Normal Series #1) by Holly Bourne

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

YA covers a lot of topics that desperately need covering. One of these is mental health, and this book, the first in a trilogy, delivers a sensitive and well-researched story about Evie, who is recovering from anxiety and OCD – at least, she thinks she’s recovering. As Evie tries to prove she’s “normal”, she befriends Lottie and Amber, two kindred spirits, and they found the Spinster Club, a grassroots feminist movement. Holly Bourne writes with a lot of humour, but is serious at the right moments. The book embraces and explores the word “feminism” and celebrates positive and supportive friendships between girls, which should put it straight on your to-read list. I also really enjoyed its first sequel, How Hard Can Love Be?, which features a tall female character (!) and is out on Valentine’s Day in 2016.


3. Burning Kingdoms (The Internment Chronicles #2) by Lauren DeStefano

Genre(s): Fantasy

I love Lauren DeStefano’s writing. I would read Lauren DeStefano’s laundry list if she sent it to me. Her prose is beautiful in a way that seems effortless; every sentence is a little work of art. Burning Kingdoms, the sequel to Perfect Ruin, is set in a very different world to its predecessor, which centred on a murder on the floating, “utopian” island of Internment. Morgan Stockhour and her fellow fugitives have escaped the island, but they’re about to discover that the ground has many problems of its own – including a war between over phosane, a substance that uses heat and light to produce energy, which the fugitives happen to have already encountered. Burning Kingdoms explores culture shock, tradition, war and freedom in a world that feels inspired by the 1920s. The supporting characters, especially Pen and Birdie, are fantastic, and I like that these books dance somewhere on the line between utopia and dystopia.


4. The Key (Engelsfors #3) by Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg

Genre(s): Urban fantasy

I rave about this series to anyone who will listen. After a long wait for the finale to be translated, it absolutely delivered. For those of you who haven’t yet set foot in Engelsfors (meaning “Angels Falls”), it’s a Swedish urban fantasy trilogy about six girls, all attending the same high school, who discover that they’re witches. There’s so much I love about the books – the story, the setting, the magic system – but it’s the main characters, and their relationships, that make it such a pleasure to read, especially the complex and slow-burning romance between two of the girls. While supernatural threats abound, the six protagonists, who have very different personalities and come from a range of socio-economic backgrounds, also have to deal with plenty of non-magical issues, including family problems, drugs, sex, love, self-esteem, acne, and bullying. Get down to your local bookshop and grab The Circle, the first installment in the trilogy – you will not regret it.


5. Queen of Shadows (Throne of Glass #4) by Sarah J. Maas

Genre(s): High fantasy

As anyone who follows me knows, I’m a big fan of Sarah J. Maas’s books, and I’ve grown more and more dazzled by the Throne of Glass series as it’s gone on. With Queen of Shadows, Sarah has blown open her beautiful and dangerous world to include new places, new characters and new threats. Celaena Sardothien, now embracing her identity as Aelin Ashryver Galathynius, has returned to Ardalan to confront her old master, but she’s not the only character on a mission. I love Aelin, and I’ve loved watching her grow from assassin to champion to fire-wielding Fae warrior queen, but I also don’t think I’ve ever cared so much about so many supporting characters in one book, from the wyvern-riding witch Manon Blackbeak to the courtesan Lysandra. If you haven’t started Throne of Glass yet, what are you waiting for?


6. Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

Genre(s): Dystopia

A must-read for anyone who cares about women’s rights and feminism – or just wants to read a truly chilling dystopia. A worthy descendant of The Handmaid’s Tale (you know it’s high praise when I compare it to Atwood), Only Ever Yours is set in a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, and are bred purely for the pleasure of men. Eating disorders, social media and our obsession with appearance are masterfully woven through the story, and the ending will punch you in the gut. I also strongly recommend O’Neill’s newest book, Asking for It, a harrowing examination of rape culture in a small Irish town.


7. The Spider King’s Daughter by Chibundu Onuzo

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

I first heard of this book when I was at an event in London where Chibundu Onuzo was speaking, and I bought it right away. Onuzo’s debut novel, which she wrote when she was seventeen, is about two characters from very different sides of Lagos: the wealthy Abikẹ Johnson, the titular “Spider King’s Daughter”, and Runner G, an ice-cream hawker from the slums. What starts off as a love story soon turns into something far more dangerous and vengeful. I’ve been searching for more books set outside Europe and America, and I loved sinking into this contemporary tale about Nigerian society, learning its intricacies and divisions, and watching the complex relationships between the characters unfold.


8. Solitaire by Alice Oseman

Genre(s): UKYA; contemporary

I have generally leaned away from books set in British high schools. I didn’t enjoy high school myself, and reading about Sixth Form and A-Levels tends to give me unpleasant flashbacks to the world of exams and cliques. However, as soon as I read the opening paragraph of Solitaire, I had the sense that Alice Oseman, who is still at university, completely understood my natural aversion to school. (The opening line: “I am aware as I step into the common room that the majority of people here are almost dead, including me.”) Solitaire is told through the eyes of Tori Spring, a pessimistic teenager whose school comes under fire by pranksters. There are some wonderful characters in this book – I especially loved Charlie – and Tori’s world-weary voice really makes the story. if you read Solitaire, do grab the two e-novellas, Nick and Charlie and This Winter. I’m looking forward to Alice’s next book, Radio Silence, which is out in 2016.


9. Illuminae (The Illuminae Files #1) by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Genre(s): Sci-fi

This one wins the prize for my favourite YA book of 2015. Told in “found document” style – including blood-splattered emails, interview transcripts and the ravings of a damaged AI – it follows Kady Grant and Ezra Mason, whose planet is attacked by the mega-corporation BeiTech. (Also, they just broke up that morning. Damn.) As their escape vessels flee across space, pursued a battleship that means to silence the survivors, all hell breaks loose. Whilst the book is dark, it’s shot through with a tonne of humour and often had me laughing out loud, especially the scenes between Kady and AIDAN, one of the best unhinged computers I’ve come across. Illuminae has been on the New York Times bestseller list for seven weeks now, and I hope it will stay there for many weeks to come. Now give me the next one, plzthx.


10. Way Down Dark (The Australia Trilogy #1) by James Smythe

Genre(s): UKYA; sci-fi; dystopia

This book deserves a hell of a lot more hype. Way Down Dark is brutal, action-packed from the get-go, and incredibly well-plotted; I was hooked from start to finish. I first discovered James Smythe’s writing when I read his adult sci-fi, The Machine, and I was excited to find out that he was taking the leap into YA. Way Down Dark is about seventeen year-old Chan, who lives on the Australia, a spaceship that has been hurtling away from a dying Earth for several generations. Chan’s whole life is about survival, and on board the Australia, where vicious gangsters fight and slaughter for control of every part of the ship, survival isn’t easy – and neither is holding on to your humanity. This installment ends on a killer cliffhanger, which promises a much bigger world in the next two books.

5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the recommendations

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  2. You've chosen great books! Just put them on my tbr list. I love Throne of glass series, too. Absolutely amazing piece of fantasy.

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  3. Thanks for the interesting list. Have not heard of most of these apart from Throne of Glass. Funny, I also just reached my 30 book milestone for 2015 and hoping to hit 50 in the New Year. Enjoy your reading journeys!
    And by the way, lovely new photo!

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  4. I love Lauren D too. That's what I call her :) Wither is my favorite book. Have you read it? I used to keep it in my bag, to re-read again. Can't wait for The Song Rising btw

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    1. Yes, I've read Wither! It's great. I need to get round to reading Fever...

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